Last-Minute Christmas Decorations and Tangled Lights

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christmas lights knot theory

Days are flying by and everyone is busy preparing for the holidays. While you might not know what gift(s) you will be getting this year or whether the kids will catch the sniffles right before the party, one thing you can count on is tangled lights. Seriously, no matter how carefully we pack them, when we open the boxes next year, here they are, all knotted up. Turns out, it’s all about math and physics as opposed to our carelessness. Check out this NPR article for details. Here’s the best part – next time you have knotted up strings of lights, give them to your little one to undo and proudly tell your friends he was busy solving a knot theory problem.

Borromean Rings Christmas Ornament


In addition to tangled lights, another thing you can count on is a broken ornament or two or three. If your tree looks a bit bare, don’t rush to the store. Instead, consider some really cool last-minute DIY ornaments. Bonus is they are all about math. The easiest ones are paper chain garlands. This year, add a twist, (ok, half a twist) and turn them into Moebius chain garlands. Or bend pipe cleaners into shapes and grow Borax crystals on them. What shapes you choose is totally up to you. Inspired by Vi Hart’s Borromean Onion Rings video, we made this Borromean Rings ornament.

Malke Rosenfeld Math Star Ornaments

Or how about turning cardboard boxes you were about to throw away into star ornaments just like Malke and her daughter did on the Map is Not the Territory blog.

Free giant Christmas printable from MrPrintables

Finally, we’d like to share a holiday printable we found thanks to the link from one of the readers, Elena T. She printed it for her daughter to color days ago, but we just got around to it. This Christmas tree might seem like just a giant cute coloring page, but don’t let it fool you. It’s got lots of things going on, including some great math. Can you find examples of gradients, tessellations, pattern, rotational symmetry, radial symmetry, iconic quantities and a lovely Sierpinski triangle?

Share your holiday math with us on the blog and on our Facebook page.

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